POP-ROCK | This week's release of Nick Jonas's debut disc from his side project, Nick Jonas & The Administration, is a precarious move for the youngest, most musically talented of the uber-popular Jonas Brothers.
Too small a step and he remain linked to a ‘tween band who, like it or not, will have to move on or die. Too large a leap and it’s likely to be rejected by the fans he needs to follow him.
While not a slam dunk like “Justified,” the disc Justin Timberlake made when he left ‘NSync, Jonas & The Administration’s “Who I Am” makes a lot of the right moves, stretching enough to challenge listeners’ notion of, well, who he is, but treading lightly enough to keep in touch with the fans who are growing along with him.
And being good enough to impress new listeners, as well.
Jonas strives for mature musical props, using three members of Prince’s 1990s band New Power Generation to fuel his tunes: wah-wah guitar and Prince-like falsetto singing on the opening “Rose Garden,” a Prince-like scream on the harder “Conspiracy Theory”; a slow, jazzy, orchestrated feel on “In The End.”
His falsetto is closer to Timberlake’s on the more soulful “Olive & An Arrow,” and on “State of Emergency” where he also uses a funky guitar-and-bass groove that has the feel of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” The drum-heavy “Last Time Around” is the harder side of pop rock, and has a nice organ riff.
But by far the standout among this disc’s 10 tracks are the slower, introspective songs.
On “Stronger,” he sings in a nice lower register, simmering instead of screeching, and when he forcefully repeats the title near the end with a cool organ and choir backing, it sounds believable.
“Tonight,” a much slower, gentler version of the Jonas Brothers hit from 2008’s “A Little Bit Longer,” is still the most “Jonas” song on the disc. But singing high and soft instead of the rougher rock that sometimes stretches his vocal range on most of the disc, Nick makes it a wholly different song, giving the lyrics an unsettled – and unsettling – interpretation very different from the hit version.
The title track, the disc’s first single, also is very good lyrically: a seemingly honest statement of Jonas being in the place where “I want to break all the madness/But it’s all I have.” When was the last time you heard a successful artist be that truthful about his work? And it helps even more that it has an irresistible beeping guitar hook and that Jonas sings the heck out of it.
In fact, much of the disc’s lyrical content is amazingly good, especially when you consider it was written by an 18-year-old. Hos this for nailing it: “We’ve never been into honesty, so promise me you’ll let me know when you’re lying,” Jonas sings on “Olive & An Arrow.”
It’s especially true on by far the disc’s best track, “Vesper’s Goodbye,” with its stark, touching piano and emotional singing. “All of you shape me into what I am,” he sings before talking about the end of a relationship and the final end (of his career? death?).
When I heard Nick Jonas on “Paranoid,” the first single from the Jonas Brothers’ last disc, “Lines, Vines & Trying Times,” I expected a solo disc would have a similar new wave feel, and still think that would be a great step for Jonas – albeit the expected one from ‘tween to teen. And maybe that’s still ahead for Jonas.
But for now, the answer to “What I Am” is this: very good.